A dual-isotope approach to the nitrogen hydrochemistry of an urban aquifer

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The potential for exploitation of urban aquifers is partly dependent on understanding the distribution and fate of urban N sources, such as sewage and fertilisers, that can limit the use of groundwater for public supplies. To investigate the application of the dual-isotope approach to understanding the N hydrochemistry of urban groundwater, this paper presents d15N- NO3- and d18O-NO3- data collected from two multi-level piezometers in the Sherwood sandstone aquifer beneath Nottingham in the English Midlands, UK. At one multi-level piezometer (Old Basford), depth sample measurements of d15N- NO3- in the range +9.2 to +11.4 ‰ and d18O-NO3- in the range +8.2 to +10.9‰, together with NO3- nitrate concentrations from 31.7 to 66.7 mg/l, are evidence for nitrification of sewage-derived inputs. In contrast, at the other multi-level piezometer (the Meadows), isotopically enriched samples (d15N-NO3- in the range +24.3 to +42.2 ‰ and d18O-NO3- in the range +20.5 to +29.4‰) are evidence for denitrification, although the compositional range of d15N-NO3- does not identify the N source without corroborating data. For the Meadows location, a cross-plot of d15N-NO3- versus d18O-NO3- gave an enrichment of the 15N isotope relative to the 18O isotope by a factor of 1.9, within the range of 1.3-2.1 reported for denitrification in other studies. This study has shown that the dual-isotope approach provides improved understanding of N sources and fate in the urban environment but further work is required to identify nitrification pathways to provide more confidence in the application and interpretation of d18O-NO3- measurements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)709-719
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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